The science of building a STM community

Successful expert communities might feel like magic when they work, but there are key steps and components every STM publisher needs to spark reactions.
The science of building a STM community

When you look at a successful STM community, it can seem as though it has sprung up by magic. The audience is engaged and interacting, conversations are happening, users are networking…it’s all there: a thriving, exciting community. 

If you’re looking to those communities – like Springer Nature’s – and wondering why your own has yet to reach that level of engagement and collaboration, rest assured that it was neither magic nor an overnight success. Communities take time to build, and while every community is different there are some processes and components that every community needs if it’s going to take off. 

To get an in-depth, practical look at the process Springer Nature and others have gone through, read the full guide here: A Publisher’s Guide to Expert Communities.

But first, let’s take a brief look at the science behind building a thriving community – and how you can replicate it. 

The process of building a STM community 

Developing an expert STM community is chemistry, not magic. It’s observing, experimenting, reviewing your outcomes, and amending your approach until you get the reactions you need. With the right approach, and all the right components, you can spark engagement and create a dynamic STM community. 


Before you do anything, understand your audience. Who are they? What do you know about them so far? Obviously, one of the benefits of building a community is that you’ll have access to data that will help you get to know them better, but you need initial insight to know where to start. Consider reaching out to your target audience with surveys and polls to find out more about them. Look closely at your existing open access content that has achieved the best readership, or the most comments, for ideas on entry points. 


How can you add value and transform them from passive ‘readers’ into active ‘subscribers’? Start to ask questions around what your audience want or need from an expert community, and think about how you are ideally positioned to deliver it.


What is the purpose of this community? This is the crux of everything: you need to hypothesise what’s going to hook your subscribers into your community, and the value you can offer that will keep them there. Keeping sight of this ‘why’ will help you to measure success later on.


The process doesn’t end when you launch your community: it’s now time to experiment, working on different content, initiatives and approaches to see what drives the best engagement. A brand-new community won’t build momentum on its own: you need to stay actively engaged to get the best results. If your STM publication revolves around publishing open access content, how can you extend that content into conversation? Research papers are rarely wrapped up neatly - there are always further challenges, and your community can be used as a valuable sounding board for authors, as well as a fact-finding source for members.


Keep a close eye on what’s impacting activity on your community: has a particular post been successful? Are there certain members that are more active than others? Are there ‘dead spots’ that aren’t really working? A platform that offers real time analytics will help you to respond to trends, quickly replicate successes and tackle failures swiftly.

Refine, adapt, expand  

Use your learnings to guide your community’s next steps, whether it’s changing the course of content to get better results, or expanding on existing successes: for instance, identifying a hot topic that could warrant its own breakout room or webinar. This is especially important when you come to scale your community offering: use data-driven insights to guide your community’s growth. 


A successful community needs buy-in from the business, and from the people using it. Always shout about your successes internally and show inactive members what they are missing to demonstrate value. 

The key components of a STM community 

What makes a STM community worth joining – and staying part of?

  • Knowledge

Good content is at the heart of every successful STM community, but it shouldn’t be limited to open access articles and peer research. Consider offering learning opportunities and courses that enable the community to share their knowledge. 

  • Experiences 

Your community needs to offer a streamlined experience to your members. It should feel easy to use, tailored to their needs and interests, and provide an online space that they actually want to visit. In the STM community, creating spaces for peer-to-peer discussion around niche or specialised subjects is invaluable: Springer Nature had particular success with their Scientific Research Community hubs, which brought STM professionals together in clearly defined spaces. You could potentially be bringing specialists in niche areas of research together from around the world, advancing innovations that could otherwise take much longer. 

  • Connections 

This is perhaps the biggest difference between good STM content and a thriving STM community. Think about how you can instigate conversations with comments, enable direct conversations, perhaps even establish break-out rooms, video chats and one-to-one meetings.  

  • Value 

Your community must offer value to your members in return for their time and their data. Just like any publication, product or service, your community should have a clearly defined value proposition. For STM, this needs to represent value for your authors, to attract them back to your platform, and members, to keep them interacting.

The outcomes 

By building a successful STM community, you can benefit from a more engaged audience, access to first party data, member retention and diversified commercial opportunities – but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. To find out what an active, exciting community can bring to your STM publishing brand – and how to create one – read A Publisher’s Guide to Expert Communities

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